I’m taking the Regenerative Development and Design course by Regenesis at https://www.regenerat.es/trp/ and thought I could share some key learnings before I get overwhelmed. The most exciting lesson for me is the concept that Regenesis calls the ‘Story of Place™’, but if you are new to regeneration, let’s start with definitions.
According to Regenesis, regenerative development is about seizing potential to transform our role in enabling thriving places and systems.
- It’s about designing built environments and human systems that co-evolve with nature.
- It works to create fields of caring and commitment among stakeholders.
- It sits at the intersection of understanding and intention to build civic power and systems thinking to design new ways of living in flow with nature.
- And it does all these by drawing inspiration from the self-healing and self-organising capacities of nature — and restores these when they are disrupted.
While sustainability aims to reduce/mitigate the effects of human activity, regeneration aims to reverse the degeneration of ecosystems caused by human activity.
In basic terms, sustainability sees development through the myopic lense of humans — (So, how do we preserve the environment to support us)? While regeneration sees development through a 360° wholistic lense where humans are (one of the youngest members of) nature — (So, how do we learn from and flow with nature — our mother)?
Here is a short list of differences — that I’ll update as I go deeper into the course.
| | Sustainability | Regeneration |
| General Paradigm | Ego | Eco |
| Design Story | For the individual | For the Place |
| Strategy | Dominate nature responsibly | Flow with nature |
| Develop | Product | Process |
| Work with | Objects | Living Systems |
| Design Paradigm | Solve Problems | Develop Potential |
| Goal | reduce harm | restore & thrive |
| Direction | Scale best practices | harness uniqueness |
I’m a Digital Innovation Strategist and so what I usually work on isn’t rooted in a specific place, so, I set out to question why the course is so much focused on Place. I said to myself, this course is designed by a bunch of Architects, Landscapers, and Permaculturists — so it’s natural that they would glorify place. I gave myself lots of other ‘valid’ reasons, but when I imaged what my current place (community) could be under a regenerative development scenario, I loved what I saw, I wished it was, and started thinking of ways it can be. I’m now a convert — glorifying place too.
To sum it up in one sentence, the duo crisis of climate and inequality is an urgent call to me and you (whether you are a designer, CEO, marketer, PM, policy maker, Strategist, Investor, entrepreneur, communicator, etc) to shift your work from the ‘Story of the Individual’ to what hosts the individual(s) — the ‘Story of Place™’.
In the context of a regenerative project (or business), a place is the right level of scale that a project can influence and be influenced by through its dynamic working relationships. Depending on what you working on, this scale is usually a physical place.
Places are (larger) living systems taking in and out (smaller) living beings. Think of it as your body taking in and out stuff. Places evolve or devolve depending on what comes in and goes out — just like your body’s health evolves depending on what you choose to eat.
A project coming into a place shouldn’t dominate a place by imposing its preconceived (often ego-centric) goals onto a place, rather it should seek to understand what makes the place unique and position itself to be 1) fed by the place and 2) feed the place’s potential to evolve to contribute to its smaller inhabitants and the greater whole.
We love the fruitful parent/child relationship where we support them to become what they are built to become — developing their potential. Regeneration asks us to extend this relationship to the places that host us and our projects and businesses. i.e. Ask what does this place wants to be, and how does my project contribute to it being that?
Why focus on the uniqueness of places?
The premise of lifting place in design and development is that nothing has led us to our current crisis as the paradigm of copying and pasting best practices from one place to another — i.e. scaling without considering the unique potential of a place.
I must concede, some of my initiatives have employed scaling best practices — perhaps because I was working within the problem/solution framework that creates and solves problems in cycles as opposed to the developing potential framework that generates more participatory strategies that enable evolution of living systems.
Importing best practices blocks the unique potential of a place from manifesting — instead, its potential is overpowered by the imported cultures, products, policies, and best practices. It’s like parents who force their children to be Doctors, Lawyers, or Engineers when they want to be sportsmen or dancers.
Recently, I was home and spotted a monkey dodging piercings atop a barbed-wire fence, and the first thing that came to mind was, “I wish it wasn’t school time so my kids could see a monkey live — not on TV cartoons!”
This is a rare urban scene, the first I’ve seen in a neighborhood I’ve inhabited for years and it revealed a great deal about the ecological history of this place. Once a swampy valley stretching over 2 miles with birds, monkeys, squirrels, and other species, it’s now reclaimed to maximise urban settlement on one end and factories on the other. Trees and other plant life were cut down, biodiversity destroyed, animals sent packing, and fertile soils locked off with compounds of concrete interlocking blocks and chocked with polythene bags in walkways.
If we went back in time before (let’s call it Kiwatule Valley) fell prey to the imported dynamic pressures of urbanisation, and if regenerative development was the norm — this would be a healthy ecosystem for both nature and people.
It would contribute space for urban wetland farming, fresh foods (sugarcanes, yams, fruit trees, etc), fishing, public parks for natural recreation, natural drainage, clean air, and cool weather, and for the aesthetics of the place, an urban corridor with lush green vegetation that is also a high carbon-sink sucking up CO2 from neighboring factories.
And of course, it’s a wide valley so there is still lots of space to maximise settlement with storeyed apartments along the slanty hills on either side of the valley.
People don’t love being around factories and highrise buildings as they do natural ecosystems, so communities around the valley would love their place back and would be more willing to adopt lifestyles that contribute to its thriving. In fact, a growing body of research shows that nature increases happiness, reduces stress, and improves health.
Happiness Professor Catherine A. Sanderson says, “People who simply walk past clusters of greenery in a city show spikes in happiness, suggesting that even flower beds, trees, and small strips of green in an urban environment make us feel good.”